Thursday, December 13, 2012

Winter wishes...

It is no secret that my fondest wish of all is for my daughter and her family to move up here once she has completed her nursing degree. (She is doing beautifully and has shone during her first placement - I am so very, very proud of her.) This area has so much to offer. I count our friends here amongst my favourites, despite their being friends for a relatively short period of time. The sense of community here is so incredible. I can't imagine life elsewhere now.

Today, as I was having my hair done by the very lovely Iona, we were discussing the benefits of living in this part of Scotland. "If you want to be rich, this isn't the place to be," said Iona, "but it is the place you want to be if you just want to be happy." Amen, Iona. I still hear the news of the world that exists beyond these hills, the sea and lochs. What I hear makes me sad. I swear someday I will stop listening and just live in blissful ignorance.

But, my daughter is beginning to take my suggestions seriously. What else could she possibly want? Finding work as a nurse up here would probably be fairly easy to secure. My son-in-law could set up his own computer repair business and make a living at it. But more than that, Catherine would grow up with clean air, pure water, beautiful mountains, small classrooms, lessons in Gaelic and a sense of community she will not find elsewhere. It won't limit her prospects, though. I know of a young woman who grew up and was educated here and secured a place at the highly respected Glasgow School of Art. I would argue that being educated here, where the class sizes are small and the teachers are part of the extended family that makes up each community, would be a blessing and give a student a decided advantage. It is certainly the education I would want Catherine to have. Friends of ours here have little girls Catherine's age - she will have schoolmates whose parents are good friends and will, no doubt, become good friends with my daughter and son-in-law as well. Tonight, when I spoke to Caroline on the phone, she was more than showing interest. She said she would like for them to come up in July for a visit. How lovely that would be! (I think Catherine may be as excited about coming here as we are - I told her it was just nine more sleeps until they come up and she quite literally screamed "yay" - my ears are still recovering!) 

So, I will continue with my quest to bring them here. I'm not sure how they are going to be able to resist. I mean, how's this for a morning sunrise?


We shall be busy over the next 10 days. Four more Christmas events in which to participate and some social engagements as well. But, like Catherine, I am counting the sleeps until they are here. Our Christmas will be a great one - including a Skype session with my mother on Christmas Day. How I wish she could come here and spend the holiday with us. But we will have to settle for Skype instead. I have sent her a box of presents, all sourced from the talented folk who live up in this remarkable part of the world. I shall enjoy watching her open her box to find all the goodies inside.

To all of you, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Or, as they say up here, Nollaig chridheil agus Bliadhna mhath ur!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wonderful weekend and beautiful return home...

This past weekend, Ailleas Designs took part in an Exclusively Highlands Christmas Fair at beautiful Castle Fraser in Aberdeenshire. It was a wonderful event and I did very well (helped, to a great extent, by my having my very own card reader!). It was terrific to meet new stallholders, along with seeing others who have become great friends. I highly recommend Blackbird House, the site belonging to the talented Emma Evans. Her art is charming, sweet and innocent and I adore it. I can also recommend, for those of you in the UK, the Rose Cottage Kitchen. I can personally attest to the incredible deliciousness of Katrina's creations. Her green tomato chutney is, in a word, amazing! I can't move on until I also mention the lovely Katie and her Tweedie Bags. I bought two of her adorable Harris tweed brooches. Lovely and well made. And last, but not least, Eileen Smilie, with whom I shared a large, antique table, brought her stunning silk dyed scarves, felted scarves, felted bead necklaces, and myriad other creations of beautiful colour and texture. 

Castle Fraser near Kemnay, Aberdeenshire


I can also recommend, should you ever visit the area, the wonderful B&B West Mains Steading. Anne was a wonderful hostess and we enjoyed the charm of the building, the fire in the guest lounge and the comfy bed that welcomed us each night after the market.

What was perhaps the most lovely part of the weekend was the drive home. Not simply because we were anxious to return home, because we were. But because the drive itself was so beautiful. From the moment we left Inverness heading to the west coast, everything became almost magical. It was after nine in the evening, but the moon, not quite full, reflected against the snow at the tops of the hills. From the darkness below, these shining crowns of white rose and illuminated the sky. And on the sides of the road, as we traveled toward Little Loch Broom, we saw the car lights reflected in the eyes of deer - we lost count, but we surely saw more than 30 last night. From groups of young stags, each with a dramatic crown of antlers, to the groups of does with their growing young, it always lifts my heart to see them. By the time we reached home, the clouds that had rained down on the northeast of Scotland were a memory. Small balls of fluffy white clouds basked in the moonlight and twinkling stars winked as we looked up. So very beautiful here. So lucky... 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A special anniversary...

The weather is getting colder and the days are getting shorter now. We turned back our clocks last weekend (a week before the US) and our sunrise today was at 7:43 am and our sunset was 4:37 pm. But we don't really care. As I've said before, we make up for it with the long days of summer. But, with the evenings closing in, we feel so cosy in the little bothie by the loch. And we are treated to such lovely views in the evenings. Chris got this glorious shot of the Torridons as the sun was setting. Yes, I know...terrible we have to live in such a place. (Grin)



It was two years ago today that Chris and I returned to Scotland. We left my mother and all our dear friends back in the States, but we knew we had to come back to the place that makes us happy. For those of you who have been following this blog, the road was often bumpy, but we found our way. We found our way to where we dreamed of being and the friends we are making are as dear to us as the old ones we left back in the States or elsewhere in the UK.

I am a great believer in every step of the journey meaning something. Sometimes we don't know at the time, but we are able to look back from where we are and understand. All the heartache and fear that we experienced when we found ourselves in a precarious position, that was what balances the unending happiness we feel now. It all balances out and everything, indeed, happens for a reason.

Tomorrow is the weekly market in Gairloch and I look forward, as always, to taking part. Not only a day to sell my wares, but a day to meet with friends, share a word and a smile, a cup of coffee and maybe a slice of homemade cake. The view from the GALE Centre continues to inspire me, as do the views I see in every direction. There is no limit to the beauty of the landscape or the kindness of the people. We are so truly, truly blessed.

Ailleas Designs will take me all over the north of Scotland in the months to come as we find ourselves nearing Christmas. Inverness, Castle Fraser, Torridon, and, of course, Aultbea and Gairloch will host festive events that will fill our hearts with the joy of the season. Weather permitting, this Christmas will find Caroline, Andy and my precious Catherine here for Christmas. What a joy that will be...and how wonderful to celebrate Christmas with a three-year old who will, no doubt, keep us all on our toes.

But first, a trip to see them this week as we await word from the US elections. Both Caroline and I still vote as we are still US citizens. We are praying that Wednesday will see the dawn of four more years of President Obama in the White House. I pray that the divisiveness and the polarisation of the country will finally stop. It may take getting a Democratic majority back in the Senate and House, but the US can't afford to continue under the current Congress; the majority of its members devoted to an agenda to cause the president to fail. What kind of American wants his or her president, regardless of who they voted for, to fail? That small-mindedness has to go. It has to go...

A recent visit from a much loved old college friend found us sitting down one night to watch "To Kill a Mockingbird". My friend had not seen the movie and we were all anxious for him to see it. As I watched, I realised how truly far we had come. But then I remembered the proudly racist declarations from some of the American electorate and realised how far we still have to go. And I thought of Gregory Peck, a lifelong Democrat, who would have found Obama's election a testament to the kind of tolerance and humanity he so exquisitely portrayed in Atticus Finch - perhaps the most noble man in all of literature. 

As I sit in my bothie by the loch and view the beautiful hills and spend time with warm and welcoming friends, I wish the whole world could experience the sense of peace and calm. But more than anything, I wish the country of my birth could experience it, too.  Maybe, God willing, it will.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The weather and other news...

One thing that is obvious in this part of the world is the presence of micro-climates. We can drive 10 miles in any direction and find weather that is as opposite to what we just left as you can imagine. This week has been fairly mild and yesterday we had the windows open and Chris spent some time in the garden. When he went down to the little store in the village, he was remarking on how lovely and mild it was and another shopper, from just down the road, commented that it was nearly freezing where he lived (or, as they say in the Highlands, where he stayed). Amazing. We can go through all four seasons in a day. Today, we had a flurry of snow, and the snow is still lying on the higher hills. Now the sun is shining, but the temperatures are still low. But through it all, it is always, always beautiful.

Snow on Beinn Airigh Charr



Chris and I remarked the other day that of all the places we've lived, both apart and together, we are happier and more relaxed here than we have ever been. Our bodies seem to be relaxing - muscle by muscle - and we find ourselves sleeping so well and feeling just so at home. We want to be here forever and will do what we need to do to make that dream come true. We've had only good luck with our other dreams - why not this one?

Even the chronic pain I suffer with my arthritis seems more bearable here. I will not give this place the magical property of healing - the arthritis continues to worsen and I am just learning to put up with it. But, all I need to do is count my many blessings and the pain seems a reasonable price to pay for the happiness we are feeling in both our situation and our lives in general.

Chris is doing more and more abstract digital photo art these days. We are hopeful that we can get him into Exclusively Highlands with this fairly new art form. His imagination is amazing and what he can do with the images is magical. This past Monday, he sold two matted prints - one a digitally manipulated image of a boat and the other a haunting black and white of an abandoned old building. We are getting ready to print up cards that can be used for Christmas cards. I am sure those will sell well.

In addition to doing our regular "thing" at the market, I have volunteered to run a workshop showing people how to make beautiful little Christmas topiaries. It's been years since I made one, but I remember well how lovely they looked and how much they were loved by those folks who were at the receiving end of that little gift. I am looking forward to all the fun planned for Christmas up here. Chris and I are going to have a tree in the GALE Centre, one we decorate ourselves with bits and pieces that reflect our businesses, and then it will remain in the centre during the Christmas season. Gairloch will have its annual Fayre in the Square and Chris and I are both taking part in that as well. What better way to feel the Christmas spirit than to be surrounded by wonderful friends in a beautiful setting. And, the best news is that my precious Catherine and her mum and dad may be coming for Christmas (Caroline's schedule and the weather allowing). I can't imagine anything better.


I am spending more and more of my time on my business now. Ailleas Designs is doing well and I am looking forward to the events in which I am participating throughout November and early December. I am awaiting a card reader so that folks can make their purchases without having to worry about having available cash, and I am working very hard at making the business not only viable, but very successful. There will be a great deal of work done on sourcing new stockists throughout Scotland, possibly even looking to the other parts of the UK. In addition to Ailleas Designs, I will be launching a new business, along with a relaunch of Ailleas Designs, mid-January. I am so lucky to have some talented artists helping me with the logos and look forward to redoing the AD site and designing the new site once I have the finals of the new designs. I am busy in my studio creating new pieces and getting ready for a marathon photo shoot after Christmas. 

(Having a 25% off sale of The Sea Collection at www.ailleasdesigns.com if you would like to have a look in.) 


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Wise words and a happy life...

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." Henry David Thoreau

Of all the philosophers I know of, perhaps Thoreau is my favourite. His quest for a simple life, for living out his dream, his wish to find a world that we humans are worthy of...it all makes such perfect sense. How sad it is that, at least for me, it appears we must be older to wish it or accomplish it.

Yesterday we had to go to Easter Ross. The lovely little shop in which my jewellery was for sale has closed - the cruel reality of the economy the world is currently withstanding. I found it curious that as we left the west coast and went farther inland, the weather turned from blue skies and stunning autumnal light to grey skies and rain. We went to the shop to pick up my jewellery and then we headed to Dingwall to do a big shop at the supermarket there.

As we entered the parking area, Chris suddenly turned into the lane that leads to the petrol pumps. "Are we not going shopping then?", I asked, looking at the hordes of people filing in and out of the parking area, shopping carts heaving with deals and bargains. "Not on your life," replied my very smart husband. So, we filled the car with petrol (at a decidedly lower price than we can find here, but driving 50 miles for cheaper fuel seems a fool's economy to me) and headed back home.

The lochs were all still as mill ponds and reflected the hills, some now crowned with a dusting of snow. The light flickered on the water. And as we headed west, once again the rain and grey skies gave way to patches of blue and clouds ringed with light as the sun hid behind them. The closer we got to home, the calmer we felt. No longer amongst the crowds of people, now amongst the glory of the landscape. Sheep grazing peacefully on the hills, streams running toward the sea, some crashing over rocks and stones on their way, waterfalls and the changing colour of the leaves surrounding us. And as day gave way to night, we were treated to a beautiful sunset, with glimmering pinks and sparkling diamonds on the surface of the loch and the sea beyond.


The beauty of my surroundings inspired me to sit and create some stunning jewellery. I assure you, I use the word stunning not in a self-congratulatory way, but as a grateful nod to the muse that visits me so often now that we live here.

Today the sun is shining and the skies are blue, dotted from time to time with little clouds of white and silver. I see our washing out on the line, being dried by the crystal clean air that surrounds us. Chris has been and returned from the little store in the village so that he and I can do a roast dinner tomorrow - one to which we have invited our landlord. Life is good.

This is the life I imagined, this is the dream I dreamed. As Thoreau also said, "...if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endevors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Northern Lights and my first and only mention of the US Election

We have been treated not once but twice by the magic of the Aurora Borealis. I suppose, if I had a bucket list, seeing the Aurora would be on it. And now I have and I am so moved by the beauty that can be found all around me. Our lives here are calm and happy, warm and peaceful. Our moods, like the magical evening sky, are lightened by the very air around us and we are so very, very aware of our great good fortune.
The Aurora Borealis - 13 October 2012 at approximately 10:15 pm


As you can see from the image Chris captured this evening, the stars are amazingly bright here. We can see galaxies and stars for such a long distance, it feels as if I can reach up and touch the heavens. It is, quite literally, awesome.

When I was a child, I remember going outside in the night with a flashlight. We lived at the end of a dead-end road right next to the large pasture that belonged to the dairy farm owned by my father's family. There was no light pollution at all, and I would shine my flashlight up into the sky and try to follow the beam of light as far as I could. In that moment, I would not only feel the wonder of the universe but the insignificance of my own existence. We are nothing more than tiny particles in this vast universe. Even now it makes my head hurt to try to even begin to comprehend what the universe is or where it goes or if it has a beginning or end. But I am, like a child, still filled with such wonder. Rainbows, waterfalls, eagles flying overhead, herons gracefully walking in the tidal pools at low tide, the light of an autumn afternoon illuminating the hills and lochs - these are all such great gifts. To have them now, perhaps at a time in my life when I can most appreciate them, is the greatest blessing of all. 

We have good friends here and our businesses are doing well and we are doing well. Really well - not in terms of what we own or how much is in the bank, but in terms of our quality of life. I'm not sure I can even imagine my life being any more abundant in riches that cannot be counted, but just appreciated. 

Election time is quickly approaching back in the land of my birth. I watch, hoping and praying that we will see the very best in people, rather than the very worst. When I look at the views here, when I see smiling faces and new friends who are becoming as dear as old friends, I realise what is really important. Mitt Romney was filmed saying, "When I was a boy, I used to think that becoming rich and famous would make me happy. Boy, was I right." With all due respect (and I admit there is little), you don't know anything about happy. Happy isn't about money, it isn't about fame. I am neither rich nor famous, but I can promise you I am happier than Mitt Romney. Happy is about so much more than material things - it is about living and breathing who you want to be and where you want to be; it is about a wealth of which Mitt Romney knows nothing. Forward... 


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Home


Four weeks ago today we moved into The Bothie – our little home overlooking Loch Ewe with views toward Beinn Airigh Charr and the Torridon hills. It is an amazing place to be…and the realisation of the dream Chris and I have held firm in our hearts for the past six years. We have come to be where we are meant to be and all is as it should be.

When we arrived, we were met with such incredible hospitality by those we already knew and those we are getting to know. We have friends here – good friends.  Even the cat is happier here than I have known her to be. And sleep comes so easily now – no more tossing and turning. I am asleep within minutes of getting into bed. The air is so clean, the sound of Loch Ewe (a sea loch) moving with the tide just beyond our window – it is simply ideal.

The first week we were here, I “set up shop” for Ailleas Designs at the GALE Centre in Gairloch. Two days there, one day at the Aultbea Market and a return to the GALE Centre on Monday proved to be my most successful days in business. It was as if fate itself were telling me, clearly and in no uncertain terms, that I was, that we are, exactly where we are meant to be.

Many, many years ago, I was spurred to make changes in my life because of the wise words of Maya Angelou when she said that life is not a dress rehearsal; we only get one shot at this life and we need to make it count. All the moving I have done, all the searching I have done – both for the perfect partner and the perfect home – has been in order to make the latter part of my life count for something. I am happy to say that the chapter that started four weeks ago is the chapter that will lead, finally and at last, to my happily ever after.

Despite being a prolific dreamer, I am still amazed when a dream comes true. Perhaps it is because I have tried, all my life, to be a good and kind person. To be helpful when needed and to be loyal to friends and family - be a good daughter, wife, mother and friend.  It has not always been the easiest thing to do, but I have tried.  I know, from everything Chris has told me, that he, too, has simply tried to be the best son, husband and father he could be. We have not always been appreciated and we have often been hurt. But we continued, and still continue, to try to be loving and kind. Perhaps our finding this place and being here is compensation for trying so hard to be the best people we could be. I don't know and I am not the one to make that judgment. For me, I will be forever grateful to my mother who, when we both realised that a move back to Scotland was a possibility, gave me the greatest gift of love by allowing me to continue my search for finding my home without feeling as if I had abandoned my duties. And I have found my home. While I will always love and miss my friends and family back in the States, it is here that I can fulfill my potential (or what is left as I stare at my 57th birthday looming in the near future) and it is here that I can be truly happy.

The view from  my work table
We are spoiled by the inspiration that this place gives us. Just outside the window, just the other side from where I work, the views inspire my creations. Ailleas Designs has already welcomed a copper necklace and earring set inspired by the little rise of heather just outside the window. And soon I will create a set with Songea sapphires, inspired by the play of blues, greens, greys and flashes of teal that are found in the loch on a grey day. Indeed, that set will be entitled “Loch Ewe Reflections.” I have no doubt that I will create more and better work than ever before with my view of the loch and the hills beyond just outside the window.

Autumn is now with us and the days are shorter. The hills have traded their green, yellow and purple for bronze, gold and brown. The hills, in the afternoon light of an autumn day, are so beautiful to behold. The light, when just right, seems to illuminate every nook and cranny in the hills, bringing them even more alive. The distant hills of Torridon can appear far away or very close depending on the light. It is magical.

Thoughts are turning to Christmas now. Markets are being organised and both Chris and I are looking forward to taking part in all of them. We spend time with friends and friends-yet-to-be-made and we know we are looking forward to great joys in the remainder of this year and in the years to come. My biggest regret is that this part of my life didn’t come earlier so that my parents could have traveled to see us here. My mother and I are realistic in dreaming of her coming her for a visit. It would be impossible – but I wish so much she could visit and feel the familiar warmth and welcome of our ancestors’ country. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Countdown to the Bothie

Took some boxes to the new house today. So exciting to know that in two weeks' time we will be there, probably mostly unpacked and ready to  make that place our home. The views out of the windows alone are worth the rent. It is going to be wonderful waking and sleeping to the sound of the waters of the Minch rolling in in the guise of Loch Ewe. The sound of sheep bahhing in the field next door and the sounds of the myriad birds flying overhead. It is going to be terrific.  And it is long overdue.

We met our dear friend Lizzii and her husband Steve for lunch today at the Sheiling. We had the best time. Lizzii has been living up for here for two years but has decided to return to her native Cumbria (Kendal in the Lake District no less) and then visit from time to time. She found our new house for us, so I have proclaimed her the godmother of the house and so must come visit frequently. We met Lizzii at an important time and she was a gift to us.

If you go back to the beginning of this blog you know that the last two years have been - well - interesting. But the whole time, we put our faith in fate and karma and hoped that we would be shown the path we needed to follow. From Fife we moved to the old mill here in Milton and, as we began to take part in community markets, things fell into place. We made wonderful new friends and found a way of life that was pleasing to us. With Chris doing all the physical work, we would go where I would set up and display and sell my jewellery. After a month or two, I convinced Chris that his talent had to be seen as well (www.chrismawsonphotography.com) and he joined me and has enjoyed the buzz of chatting with folks, hearing their compliments and then having them buy a piece. It is so exciting. But we were finding that our friends and most of our business lay in Wester-Ross near Gairloch and Aultbea.  When we were presented with a heating bill for this place (archaic night storage heat), a bill that should have been enough for a full year, we knew the path was being made for us. We told Lizzii of our plans and she called with a name and number of a house that was available for rent. I called, we saw, we put down the deposit.  Just such a wonderful place and a terrific landlord from Lancashire and then Yorkshire - he reminds me of an older version of Adam Pontipee from "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." He is busy repainting and cleaning our new home. Our dearest wish is to be able to find a way to buy it.

So, off we will go, heading ever more north and west (one friend asked how much farther north we could go - well, John O Groats is about 90 miles away).  We are trading our home in the mill near the Cromarty Firth for the bungalow overlooking Loch Ewe. Paint us happy!

The next 12 days will be all about packing and getting ready for the move. There are things we need to buy still, but we will get there. I talked to Tony (our new landlord) today about giving the kitchen a bit of a facelift (our expense, of course) and he knows someone who could do the work, so we shall see when that happens. Our work tables will be right against the large window in the dining room so we can work with the Torridon hills in the distance and the shores of the loch just down past the smokehouse (smells divine).

For all the heartache we have endured, both familial and personal, all the roads have led us to where we are and where we should be.  I have no photos to accompany this entry. If I did have a photo it would be of two people smiling very broadly. We are going home, at last and for ever.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sorrow and Joy...

Friday the 13th turned out to be as bad a day as the date could possibly imply. After noticing that our cat, Titch, had been off her food for a couple of days and appeared to breathing quite quickly and with a great deal of effort, we took her to the vet on Friday morning. The vet examined her and said that her body temperature was over 10 degrees lower than normal, her lungs were working overtime and, most telling of all, she was severely anemic. These are all signs of the final stages of feline leukemia. Titch had had the vaccine, of course. But she had come to her previous owners as a rescue cat and the vet said that in many cases, rescue cats have not been vaccinated and that rescue kittens, particularly if they had been feral or born to a farm cat, can be born with the virus. He said that we had several options, they could always take blood and put her on a drip, but the outcome would be the same and it would be imminent. We didn't want to put Titch through the pain and anxiety of being in a strange place and going through all the discomfort of procedures that would do nothing more than extend her life briefly. We made the agonising decision to have her put to sleep. The vet allowed us to stay with her and I held her and stroked her, even eliciting a purr, before she had to be placed on the table, her foreleg shaved to expose the vein, weak and nearly collapsed. I continued to stroke her as the needle went in and I pray that the last thing she saw was my face, tears streaming down my cheeks and heard me tell her how much I loved her. She slipped away immediately. The vet said we could stay with her for a while if we wished and we did. We stroked the empty shell that had held her spirit and cried, noticing the vet wiping his own eyes. And then we said goodbye. He showed us out through a back door so the waiting patients and their owners didn't have to see us in our state of mourning.

That night, as I laid in bed trying hard to not think about how sad I felt, Titch's presence became very obvious. She had always come to the bedroom at night when I went to bed so she could have her evening cuddles. She would sometimes lie on my chest and purr as I stroked her glossy black coat. She would then excuse herself to spend most of the night sleeping on the deep window sill in our bedroom. During the night, I would be aware of her jumping up beside my pillow from time to time. Friday night, she jumped up on the pillow again. It was so real, I found myself reaching around to stroke her. But, of course, she wasn't there. That being said, I shared this story on my Facebook page and everyone came back saying that, of course, she had been there in spirit. Not only to let me know that she is still with me, but to make sure I was okay. Am I? Well, I miss her terribly and I as I type this, the tears are streaming down my cheeks again. But I know we did the right thing...she is not in pain anymore. And I will remember her always as my little "parrot".  Whenever I would sit on the sofa, she was always right there behind me, with her paws on my shoulder, purring contentedly. From time to time, she would meow softly and headbutt my face, rubbing the top of her head against my cheek. Darling Titch - very much loved and very much missed.

But, life is a constant flow of sorrow and joy and on Saturday we traveled to the west coast to check out a house that was for rent. The three-bedroom bungalow is located in Ormiscaig, along the road leading out to the sea from the village of Aultbea. I had spoken to the owner on Friday afternoon (trying not to let my voice crack, because I was still painfully sad from Titch's death). He was charming...a gentleman from the north of England who, like us, had fallen in love with Scotland and went there to retire. He lives in the converted garage behind the house he had once occupied.

We arrived in Ormiscaig at the appointed time of 1pm and Tony greeted us and took us the short walk to the bungalow and we waited for the current occupant to let us in. We were thrilled with the house. The furniture is there for us as well, including an upright piano that will get much use from Chris and from my stepdaughter, Lucy, when she visits.

The Bothie - our new home
So, the bungalow is now ours. I paid the rental deposit today and we will be moving in on 1 September. This is the culmination of six years of dreaming on our parts. Chris and I have longed to be in the highlands and attained that goal in September of last year. And this September, the final tweaking of the dream becomes real. Over the past year, it has been in on the west coast that we have cultivated a circle of dear friends and it is there that our businesses have been so welcomed.

I believe more than ever that life presents us with the opportunities to make our dreams come true. Bit by bit, the path we are to travel is revealed to us. From the first time we attended a market in the area, we knew that we wanted to be there. And now we will be. I just wish Titch could go with us, but, then again, I am sure she will be with us wherever we go.


The view from the Bothie - Loch Ewe, the Isle of Ewe
and the Torridon Hills


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Somewhere over the rainbow...

Had a lovely time at the Gairloch Market yesterday. It was a very lucrative one, as well. I may have discovered the secret to Ailleas Designs' future success - matching necklaces and earrings! I sold a necklace and the lady has commissioned me to do matching earrings to collect this coming Monday. Another lady looked at a gorgeous sterling silver and fluorite necklace, but decided against it because there were no matching earrings. Next week, earrings to match each and every necklace, along with new display pieces. I am going to make this business a success. Chris sold another matted A4 print to a woman who bought two prints last week. A gentleman came to his table and bought five cards, saying as he left, "You are an artist, you are a real artist." I don't know how proud Chris was, but I thought I was going to burst.

The best part of the market was seeing an old friend and his family. I had met with them when I was back in the States to help them plan their trip to Scotland. I was thrilled they stopped by (I told them they would find us there on a Monday) and to hear that their trip had been really lovely and they were so happy to have had my input. That made me smile inside and out - I love telling people about this beautiful country and all the hidden gems that are off the beaten track.

As we headed home, we decided to go by the coast and along Little Loch Broom. But, it was interesting to note that we were looking with the eyes of my friends, who would have travelled this same route perhaps just an hour or less before we did. With each changing view, we commented that we hoped the light had been this lovely when they passed through, knowing that whatever the light, the views are just phenomenal. As we reached the part of road that heads inland and we rose higher, heading toward Braemore Junction, we looked to the left to see a rainbow - below us! I've never been over the rainbow before, but now I can say I have.


We so enjoyed our day yesterday; we enjoyed the drive, we enjoyed our new friends at the market and we loved seeing my old friend and his family. I know he and his wife and daughters are having a wonderful time. I suggested they travel to Ullapool and then up to Assynt and along the loch to the village of Lochinver where they would find many lovely B&Bs (they are traveling in the wonderful way of not making any plans or reservations but letting each day take them where it will) and a marvelous view of Suilven rising up from the deserted and gorse-covered land. (We also told them about Smidge - a wonderful repellent to keep the little biters at bay - they are quite "out and about" right now here in the Highlands.)

We have several days until our market at Culbokie on The Black Isle. Another market we love and enjoy. Last month they had a classical guitarist playing during the market - I wonder what it will be this time? Whatever the day may bring, we will be doing what we enjoy and meeting more people. Last month a pastor from Texas came to my table - bought a pendant for his daughter. You never know who you are going to meet!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Back again!

I just read that my last post was April 29. I am seriously overdue for another post. So, without any further delay...

We've been very busy since our return from the States at the beginning of April. It's the season for craft fairs and markets to take off. So, we find ourselves, nearly every Monday and Saturday, loading up the car and taking to the roads of Easter Ross, Wester Ross and the Black Isle. We are having the best time. Chris is now selling at most of the markets and he is doing very, very well. Our last market was his best - selling three A4 matted prints along with a dozen or so cards. I am so proud of him. He was incredulous when a woman bought two of the prints, announced that they would be framed and placed in her study and topped off with her referring to Chris as an artist (she is also an artist - painting). He was dumb-founded. I was just very proud. I am sharing a gorgeous panorama he did of the view of Little Loch Broom with the hills beyond. This photograph was taken this past Monday afternoon. What a glorious day.

The view north across Little Loch Broom
Speaking of day, our days are getting longer. It is now light until nearly 11pm and never really goes completely dark - staying twilight until the night gives way to morning around 3:30am. Fortunately, we have fairly thick curtains in the bedroom. This does not mean the birds are immune to the changing hours. The dawn chorus is often in full swing by 4am. But that is fine with me - I love listening to the birds singing. And in the evenings, the woods across from our front door are full of pipistrelle bats flying through the air as the light begins to fade. Add that to the sounds of the owls and it is blissful. By the time the solstice arrives on the 21st of June, our nights will be even shorter. But it is only fair when one considers the length of our days in winter. The sun doesn't rise until 9am or so and sets around 3:30, making for a very short day indeed. But, just as Scotland enchants me despite the weather, it also enchants me despite the presence or lack of sunshine.

Today we journeyed over to Aberdeenshire and Fyvie where my jewellery is being showcased in a lovely little gallery. A friend from the States has been longing for a certain pendant and I fetched it from there so that I would have it on hand when she is ready to purchase it. It was a pleasure seeing my creations in their lovely little glass case. More delightful was being handed some money for the jewellery that had sold. Not a great deal, but it's a start. Every sale is one more affirmation of my decision to try doing the design work for my job. It is early days yet when it comes to the life of a small business. I have no doubt that things will improve. I've even put the writer's hat back on for that part of my life as well. The second of two articles I've written for the Guild of Jewellery Designers was published on line today. I am really thrilled to be able to do this for them. Here is the link - http://www.guildofjewellerydesigners.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1121%3Athat-certain-sparkle&catid=27&Itemid=70.

Our offspring are doing well - my daughter has been accepted by the University of Dundee to start their BSc degree in adult nursing starting this September. I am so proud of her. Granddaughter Catherine is growing like a weed. She will be three in August and I find that hard to believe. They are moving into a new house next week and we will be traveling down to Kirkcaldy to see them at the end of the month, weighed down with pressies that have been used as bribes to encourage Catherine to forego the nappies. I am proud to say that the nappies are now a thing of the past. They do grow up so quickly. Stepdaughter Lucy has joined forces with a very talented classically trained vocalist and they are now known as Con Amore and are hoping to do gigs at weddings, funerals, corporate events, etc. Stepson Olly has completed his studies in Newquay, Cornwall and will be starting his degree at the University of Plymouth in the autumn, where he is majoring in Ecology. Being in Cornwall has been an advantage, as he has spent quite a lot of time volunteering at The Eden Project.


I have recently taken up crochet, which gives me something creative to do when I'm not making jewellery or writing. I've become quite addicted to it, I'm afraid. I tried knitting, but didn't get on with that at all. Too much time. I am, I blush to admit, one of the least patient people in the world. I want something to become evident much more quickly than knitting allows. My reason for wanting to do either was down to being seduced by the glorious colours and textures of yarns. I found some beautiful variegated yarns on a website and ordered three skeins. A scarf pattern I had seen seemed the perfect use for the yarn and I spent two days crocheting away, but I was very pleased with the result:

Spiral scarf using variegated yarn

So, that's a bit of a catch-up on all we've been up to. We are happily involved with a great group of artists/independent business owners called Highland Traders. We are busily trying to establish ourselves in the area and are currently holding markets one Saturday out of the month. Chris and I are also participating in several Highland games events and are most looking forward to the two-day event at the Castle of Moy, south of Inverness. It promises to be a wonderful event and we are sharing a tent with a lovely lady called Mary, who bakes the most delicious cakes and scones, etc., and her husband Mike who does enchanting wood carvings. It is not an inexpensive event in which to participate, but a veteran of the event has told me to double my current stock. If that is a true evaluation of the business to be had, I will be very pleased indeed.

I will do my best to write again soon. I hope you are all enjoying the summer, wherever you are. (We do miss the lightening bugs of Virginia and come August will miss the evening song of the cicadas...)


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

All will be revealed...

Please think positive thoughts for me this Saturday, March 24, at 11:15am.  All will be revealed quite soon.  Very exciting prospects...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The morning commute....

It has been far too long since my last blog. Don't misunderstand, I've meant to write, but I have been so incredibly busy with Ailleas Designs that I've had time to do little else but work on the business. But how could it be seen as work when it is such a pleasure and such a joy taking the jewellery on the road. Now the photography is coming on the road, too! I am pleased to report that Chris had several sales at the Aultbea market and we are looking forward to many successes for Chris Mawson Photography.

We went to the first Friday in the month market at Aultbea last week and it was a lovely, lovely day. How many people can claim a commute that looks like this.  

We left our place at 6:30 am as the sun was rising. This is the view across the Cromarty Firth east toward Cromarty.
After the turn at Braemore Junction, we headed west as the sun rose higher in the sky. As we approached Little Loch Broom, the hills were bathed in a beautiful morning light. The view was spectacular.

Spring is most definitely in the air. The herd of feral goats that live along Little Loch Broom have welcomed the arrival of this year's spring kids. I love these little guys. Unlike their parents, they are fearless and were more than happy to pose for the camera.





Of course, the trip back was equally beautiful. While the skies were not as bright and blue as they had been for the morning commute - the view toward Loch Maree from above was still quite magnificent.


But the sun peeked out of the clouds to illuminate the sides of the hills.

I've said it before, I will say it again. I am lucky - I am damned lucky. There isn't a moment that I don't delight in my surroundings. I will never take them or my situation for granted. This is where my heart is most happy.

I had an email from my cousin last week and she said she was amazed with how much Chris and I were accomplishing in such a short period of time. To that I replied, "What is amazing is what can be accomplished when you are exactly where you are supposed to be."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Another trip west...

Sunrise over Little Loch Broom
This past Friday, we attended the first of the monthly fairs at Aulbea - just eight miles from Gairloch (our weekly trips to Gairloch will start on 27 February and will mark Chris' first venture into the market world as a stallholder). It was a very good day for business (lots of foundation laid for future sales and an incredibly ringing endorsement from the organisation that runs the fairs - my picture taken with my jewellery for the newsletter!). It was an even more wonderful day for the scenery we enjoyed to and from the fair. You may be aware that the UK has experienced a bit of deep freeze these past few days. Indeed, the temperature when we left our home at 6:20am was -7 degrees Celsius. As we traveled first south and then west the temperature came down more and more until we reached the coldest along the road between Garve and Braemore Junction where it plummeted to -11. Even the streams were frozen solid and some of the lochs were rimmed with ice with only small areas of water in the centre. But it was just so lovely watching the light of the sunrise play on the hills and lochs. 

Icicles along the roadside
As we turned down the road to Aultbea from Braemore Junction, we passed miles of lovely sparkling icicles hanging from the large rocks beside the road. The sky, as is always the case with this sort of weather, was a clear as it could be. We were treated to a lovely show of colour over the hills as we reached the outer end of Little Loch Broom, and Chris captured this image looking back to where we had been. 

We arrived at Aultbea about a half hour early (so know that we can sleep a little later when the next fair comes) and sat in the car beside the little harbour, where Loch Ewe wraps around the little peninsula that serves as the land for many houses. Chris sipped his coffee as we watched shore birds glide in, wondering if there were as surprised as we were to find the shoreline frozen solid. (Loch Ewe is a salt-water loch coming in from the Atlantic between The Isle of Skye and the Scottish mainland - this body of water is called The Minch.) We saw some cars arrive, driving toward the village hall and made our way up the road to find our table and get things set up. It was a lovely market, with many new friends and even newer friends amongst the other stallholders. I had a sale (it was not a brilliant market for sales - but it was incredibly good as far as getting "the brand" out there) and a great deal of fun visiting with the various people who came to my stall. But the rule of thumb for markets is that if the bakers still have loaves unsold, it hasn't been a very good market for sales - but they are always good for meeting like-minded people.

Looking towards the north west
Little "cavern" of ice
The market ended at 2;30 (having started at 10) and we packed up for a drive home that should have taken no more than one to one and three-quarter hours. It took us nearly three. It took that long because with every bend in the road the views before us become more and more beautiful. From a hill just outside Aultbea, we were treated to a view across the water toward the north. The play of light on the water was amazing and the  bank of clouds over us was low, but just beyond the light shone through to give the view such incredible depth. We traveled along, capturing the view of the house on the hill at Second Coast with the snow-covered hills beyond. Beside the road, as we traveled along the shores of Little Loch Broom, feral goats, wild descendants of once-domestic goats, and their kids were seen on the hills and traveling along the side of the road. Waterfalls and a tiny "cavern" of ice and water enchanted us. 

Moon over an
abandoned house
As we drove on, now on the road that would take us to Braemore, the sunset and moonrise coincided with beautiful effect and an abandoned house along the road where Chris had captured a lovely sunset before served as the perfect focus for a twilight photograph. The temperature, having reached a "high" of about 1 plummeted once more toward double digits. Chris returned from the picture-taking feeling as if his very core were frozen.

The thought that we will be making this trip on a weekly basis come the end of February and a twice-weekly basis once a month come March is just too good to be true. We are hoping that as we meet more people from this area the day may come when we will find a lovely place to live where these views will be part of everyday. Now, wouldn't that be something!

Monday, January 30, 2012

To the beautiful west and back again...


I am sorry it has been so long since my last post (not counting the Irresistibly Sweet Blog post). We have not done very much traveling. Add to that the new pains meds my doctor prescribed. Within 24 hours they had turned me into the walking dead. Forgetful…yes! Lethargic…yes! More painfree…no! So, without doctor’s consent or consultation, I have forthwith removed myself from said zombie-producing drug and hope to be my old self again. And, we have been on the road again with beautiful photos from Chris’ talented eye to accompany the words.

Back in December, we met a delightful woman at the Christmas Gairloch Market. A photographer with a free and easy approach to life, she piqued Chris’ curiosity and seeing her sell well at the market made him more determined to get back to taking more photographs and getting his website moving again. (It is down for maintenance right now as we have some adjusting of prices and sizing to do. It will be back up and running again very soon and I encourage you to check it out. You will find a link to the right of this blog.)

This past Thursday, Chris and I (lethargic and addle-brained) took a trip to Gairloch to meet up with Lizzii (the woman from the market) and to listen to her advice on selling photography. We went by way of Garve, taking the turn towards Achnasheen and the road that takes us beside Loch Maree once more. It was lovely – lots of snow on the hilltops and whispy clouds in the sky. It looked much different than last time – I suppose that is the magic of the Highlands; every day the light hits just a little differently and the hills take on new shapes and you notice furrows and hillocks you hadn’t noticed before. We met at The Sheiling (translation: shepherd's hut) and enjoyed coffee while reclining on huge leather sofas in a room with floor to ceiling windows looking out to the sea. Lizzii shared her philosophy about her art with us. Her attitude is amazing…and contagious. We so enjoyed our time with her, as much as we enjoyed the trip there and back.

The Torridon Hills from
 Loch Tollaidh
Upon leaving Gairloch, we decided to follow the northern route, toward Ullapool, for our journey back. We had not driven this road for over five years and we looked at it differently now. We had a greater appreciation for the beauty of the place – knowing that it is, for all intents and purposes, at our back door. For now. We really do want to move to this part of Scotland but know, as things have happened before, that the time and place will make itself known to us when it is time to make a final move to the place we will never want to leave.

Sunset near Fain
Our trip out of Gairloch took us to the road to Poolewe and through areas of barren land and lochs and amazing views of the snow-covered hills in the distance. We drove the narrow road that took us alongside Loch Tollaidh and were rendered almost breathless with the view of the Torridon hills. We passed by Gruinard Bay and stopped to breathe in the clean, cold air. We continued along, detouring quickly into Aultbea so we could see where the market is held (extra sweaters and scarves will be needed) and then back again onto the road that would lead us to Little Loch Broom, up to Braemore Station and on the road back to our home in the mill.

Snowfall at Loch Glascanoch
The hills, the light and the sudden appearance of snow – each and every vista was new and breathtaking. No matter how long we live here (and we will until it is time to scatter ashes in the hills), I don’t think we will ever look at the scenery and find ourselves complacent. How could you ever be complacent about seeing so much unspoiled scenery? I feel as if I can be anywhere in time when I look at these landscapes, for there is little evidence that man even exists.

The forecasts for the week ahead look good and I feel sure that a trip to Skye or the far northwest corner will be in our plans for the time ahead. I long to go up the road to Kinlochbervie and Oldshoremore. To cross the bridge at Kylesku and perhaps follow the coastal road that runs along the northern tip of Scotland. I want to see the sea from the Waternish peninsula on Skye, the fields of Highland cattle and the twinkling of the sea - to return to these places and to know that we will not be nor will ever be disappointed.


Our spring will include a return to the States for two weeks at the end of March, beginning of April. The homesickness we felt for Scotland while living in the States was far greater than what we will feel this spring, but we will be homesick. Never has a place beckoned me so…never has a place so felt like home.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gosh, I'm irresistible!


A wonderful writer, who writes an equally wonderful blog, has passed on the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award! I don't think I've won an award since my school days and I thank Deborah Barker, she of Living Between the Lines, for this lovely honour. I am embarrassed it comes after many weeks of non-blogging. Truth is, the weather has not been fabulous for road trips or photographs. I am quite sure the blogs I have written that are not about the Hills and Heather of my blog's title would be of far less interest than those that talk about the beautiful world in which I live. But, in a way, I am glad the award has spurned me to write. I have been so busy with the administration of my little business (Ailleas Designs), I have had little time to do anything else. Indeed, the business is quickly taking up even more time as the new year of markets and fairs is already underway. I shall be participating in no fewer than four a month starting next month. Thank goodness my wonderful Chris is there to help with the physical part of the job. My strength lies in chatting with customers and fellow stallholders.
  
So, the rules of having received an irresistibly sweet blog award are as follows:
  1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
  2. Share 7 random facts about yourself.
  3. Pass the Award on to some of your own deserving blog friends
  4. Contact those friends and let them know.

I have thanked and linked to Deborah (wouldn't even need to be told to do that - she is a wonderful writer and everyone, I mean everyone, should visit her blog and be enchanted by her writing). Now I have to share seven random facts about myself that you may not have known. This may be harder to do - I'm pretty much a "what you see is what you get" kinda gal. but I shall see what I come up with.

ONE
Just as Deborah shared in her blog her own irresistible charms, I shall start with mine. If there is a person who has, shall we say, social challenges (doesn't bathe, drinks too much, lives in a different reality, etc.) they do seem to single me out in the crowd. I'd like to think it's my friendly face, but it probably more my dumb luck. 

TWO
Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in
"An American in Paris"
I love to watch dancing. When I was younger, I danced all the time. I watched movie musicals over and over again so I could learn the moves. I adored dancing and have been told that I was actually quite good at it. I credit Gene Kelly. When I was little, I was quite an energetic child and my mother found my energy exhausting (my sister and I are only 20 months apart and I still can't imagine the challenges that posed). I never sat still. So, my mother introduced me to musicals. I don't know if it was her hope that I would see dancing and decide to channel by energies that way, but that is what happened. I must have been five or six when I saw "Singing in the Rain" on TV for the first time. I fell in love with the dancing (I also fell in love with Gene Kelly - what a wonderful, smiling charming persona he emanated). After that, I would take all my excess energy and put it to use dancing for hours to my parents' records of classical or modern music or one of their many original Broadway cast albums. And I kept on dancing well into my twenties. When I decided to lose weight my freshman year in college, I would put on a leotard, grab my dinky little portable record-player, grab my "That's Entertainment" soundtrack and walk across campus to what was called the Mirror Room. A large empty room with mirrors making up two opposing walls, it was a room used for dancing and fencing. I would put on the album (side four was my favourite) and I would dance - for an hour or two, I would dance my feet off. I loved to dance to Judy Garland's rendition of "Get Happy" or "Gotta Dance" from "Singing in the Rain." It was wonderful and so liberating - I loved dancing so much and I feel very sad at times that the arthritis that has all but destroyed my right knee and makes my left knee and hips very painful has deprived me of the ability to dance. To this day, my all-time favourite movie is "An American in Paris." 

THREE
I want to learn to play the bodhrain (the Irish drum played with a wooden tipper). I have always tapped along to music and I feel sure this would be a way of allowing me to play along. You see, while I was blessed with an incredible sense of rhythm, I was not blessed with a voice that is pleasant to listen to when attempting to sing. In fact, my voice is awful and I often find myself straying far from the melody intended. Yes, a bodhrain will suit me nicely. Just have to find the right one. 

FOUR
Stray animals always come to me. Years ago when I was living in rural Virginia, several dogs showed up at my house. None were owned, all had been abandoned and they all came to my house. My mother thinks there was a sign, visible only to homeless animals, that said "This Way for Food and Love" and an arrow pointing to my house. I am unapologetically guilty of anthropomorphising. 

FIVE
Gardner McKay
I am an incurable romantic and have had crushes on handsome "movie stars" from a young age. The first crush I can remember was on Gardner McKay from "Adventures in Paradise." He played a sailor in Tahiti - his character's name was Adam Troy (what an early sixties name for a dreamy leading man). My great teenie bopper crush was on Sajid Khan who starred in the short-lived TV show "Maya" and was the first American teen idol who was Indian and Muslim (what would Homeland Security think of that now). He used to show up on the Saturday morning variety show "Happening" in the late 60s and then disappeared. I had his album - he couldn't sing, but in those days teen idols released albums whether they could sing or not. As an adult, I am very much charmed by Sir Patrick Stewart and Ian McShane. While my greatest knowledge of Patrick Stewart came from "Star Trek: The Next Generation", I had the privilege of seeing him on stage at Stratford-upon-Avon playing a very sexy Oberon in "A Midsummer Night's Dream". I developed a huge crush on Ian McShane when I started watching "Lovejoy" on A&E back in the States. Love those bedroom eyes. But I am very lucky - as I am now married to my biggest crush of all - my husband, Chris. 

SIX
My sister has written of my father's sense of wonder. I think I inherited that from him. No matter how many times I see them, I still get very excited when I see an animal in its own habitat, or a shooting star or a full moon. I am also, like my father, a ridiculous softie who is moved to tears by lines in a movie, lyrics of song, the soft skin of a newborn baby or the sight of a humpback whale breaching (amongst others). Of all of my father's gifts, it is this sense of wonderment that I hold most dear. 

SEVEN
Yummy!
I love artichokes. Of all the vegetables on the planet, I would do nearly anything to have an artichoke. Unfortunately, they are not widely abundant in the UK. Once, years ago when I was living in Devon, I came across three artichokes at the green grocers. They had been ordered in specially for some sort of event. There were three left over. I took them to pay for them. The green grocer was apologetic when he told me they were £1 each. (Little did he know I would have paid £5 each if he had asked.) I took them home, steamed them, melted some butter with lemon juice and my daughter and I sat there eating them with the look of addicts who had just had a fix. 

So, there you are - my seven random facts. Possibly boring, but I hope somewhat amusing. Now, I have to pass on this award to other blogs. Trouble is, I don't know that many bloggers besides Deborah and my sister (to whom Deborah has passed the award, so I can't do that). But I will pass it on to the incomparable C.J. Schlottman, whose "The Red Sweater" is not only charming and beautifully written, but gives you links to her poetry (stunning) and newest blog about internet dating. I hope you will enjoy what she has written. I always do. I am also sharing this award with Bonnie Morrison, a talented actor who was a graduate of Mary Baldwin College, both undergrad and grad. She is an amazing young woman and I love her writing style. So, check out her blog 52 Plays in 52 Weeks. Most of the other blogs I know are related to marketing for transactional websites, so I will leave them as I wouldn't be able to stop if I started naming them. 





Sunday, January 1, 2012

First Journey of the New Year

Happy 2012! Chris and I saw in the new year with a glass of Taliskers and wishes that the happiness we have felt over the last three months will continue into 2012 and beyond. Moving to the highlands has proved to be everything we could have wished for. A fabulous landlord and his wife, who are fast becoming favourite friends, and next-door neighbours who are just lovely. Who could ask for anything more? This first month of January sees us running a sale on my jewellery website, attending two markets at the end of the month, and giving Chris' photography business a big push after a year of so of allowing it to sit on the back burner - but no more. An order that came in Christmas Eve was a huge wake-up that we need to do more marketing of his work.

That being said, Chris is still happy to snap photos for me to use on the blog, and today I share some more photographs of our beautiful corner of the world. Having languished at home for several days, without a moment outside, we decided to take ourselves on a drive today and to go farther north on the A9 than we have previously. So, we headed up and made the decision to drive until the sunlight began to fade (this time of year, the sun sets around 4pm). Past the familiar sights of Dornoch and up to Golspie and Brora, we headed farther north with Dunbeath as our destination before turning around and coming back again.

North of Lothmore, looking to the North Sea
Our drive took us through three different counties - Ross & Cromarty (where we live) and then Sutherland and Caithness.  Neither of us had been to Caithness before and we found it to be quite lovely. The elevation appeared to climb as we wound our way along the curving and climbing road. To the right, the North Sea, with white caps and waves crashing onto the shore, looked almost deep violet in the winter light. The hills were a mixture of green and the rust of bracken and heather. Ruined croft houses dotted the landscapes, as did the wooly sheep and Highland cattle. This first photograph is looking toward the sea from just north of Lothmore. We aren't sure what the building in the distance is and we weren't able to get any closer. There were many look-outs built in this area during WWII and it may be that this is the purpose of this building. 

The ridge of Scaraben
As we drove along, we found ourselves closer to the sea, but to our left, the hills rose and rose sharply. Shortly after we entered Caithness, the barrier that closes the road when the snow is too deep appeared, pushed off to the side as the snow from earlier storms had melted. Despite the fact that they were not any taller than the hills around Moffat, where we lived in the south of Scotland, the snow and barren condition of the land nearby made them appeared far taller and foreboding. This is the ridge of Scaraben - with the Cadha a t'Sagairt (the Pass of the Priest) running between the two summits. We were driving along the road in Caithness, but this "hill" is actually located in Sutherland. While there wasn't time today, we are hopeful to get back as there is a narrow road that travels up to the hills. What a lovely hill and all the more lovely with the white of the snow along the ridge, like a backbone for the land.

The road down and into Berriesdale
There are few roads that frighten me. Having twice endured the drive of the Bealach na ba on the west coast  (once as a driver, the other as a passenger), I didn't think any road could make me a bit uneasy. But the A9 between Berriesdale and Dunbeath had some fairly twisty, high bits that appeared to drop straight into the sea. On our way back (with our car now on the side nearest the drop), I had to ask Chris to drive a bit more slowly. We descended the hills until we were once again in the flatter land of Sutherland, heading toward Ross & Cromarty and home.  Loch Fleet, just north of Dornoch, was swollen and the freshwater lagoon that sits just inland of the loch was full to brimming. We stopped to read about the area and hope to return sometime when we can enjoy the views and, hopefully, see some of the wildlife that are abundant in the area - ospreys and otters amongst them. 

The tide, which had been out on our outward part of the journey, leaving the sands and ancients tree stumps of the Dornoch Firth exposed, had come in again and as we drove over the bridge connecting Sutherland to Ross & Cromarty, we were reminded once more of the incredible beauty this area has to offer. While our hearts are in the west, for now, we will enjoy our time in the softer and gentler east. But we both feel that need to see the west coast again and are already planning our next car journey. Skye, Plockton, the Kyle of Lochalsh and Gairloch will soon be our destinations for a day or weekend's trip. We are so very, very lucky and blessed to be here.